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New strategic vision recognizes and celebrates UTK’s role in advancing Tennessee’s innovation economy

By Tom Ballard, Chief Alliance Officer, PYA

During its fall meeting at the end of October, the University of Tennessee (UT) Board of Trustees unanimously approved a new strategic vision for the Knoxville campus, a vote that marked the culmination of a nearly two-year collaborative effort to envision a bold future for the state’s flagship land-grant institution.

“The vote was an endorsement of the tremendous care, thought, and innovation that people across this campus invested in crafting a shared vision for our future,” said Chancellor Donde Plowman. “I am looking forward to working with everyone across campus to bring this vision to life and usher our university into its next great chapter.”

The vision includes five goals, each with a series of objectives, priorities, and metrics. Both an overview of these goals and a detailed document can be found on the strategic vision web page here.

The goals are crisp:

  • CULTIVATING THE VOLUNTEER EXPERIENCE – Demonstrate leadership in providing high-quality educational opportunities for people at every stage of life, whenever and wherever they seek to learn.
  • CONDUCTING RESEARCH THAT MAKES LIFE AND LIVES BETTER – Advance the frontiers of knowledge to create a more just, prosperous, and sustainable future through world-class research, scholarship, and creative work.
  • ENSURING A CULTURE WHERE VOL IS A VERB – Develop and sustain a nurturing university culture where diversity and community are enduring sources of strength.
  • MAKING OURSELVES NIMBLE AND ADAPTABLE – Empower and sustain a culture of collaboration, agility, and innovation throughout the university.
  • EMBODYING THE MODERN R1, LAND-GRANT UNIVERSITY – Connect with every Tennessean and with communities around the world, inspiring future Volunteers to join our diverse community.

As we dove deeper into the document at this link, we noticed several goals that should be of interest to our readers, particularly those focused on growing the research enterprise, expanding the reach and impact of the Knoxville campus, and benefitting the State of Tennessee.

One goal that is the responsibility of the entire higher education system, not just UT, is to move the State of Tennessee into the ranks of the top 25 for innovation/knowledge economies in 2026 as measured by the “State New Economy Index.” The Volunteer State was ranked #30 in 2020. And another one for all higher education in Tennessee, again not just UT, is to move the Volunteer State from #20 to the top 15 in terms of academic research expenditures.

In terms of contributions from UT, Knoxville (UTK), not the UT System, to this specific goal, the plan specifies a number of important “Operational Goals and Metrics” under the “Conducting Research that Makes Life and Lives Better” goal:

  • Increase invention disclosures filed annually by 20 percent, rising from 125 to 150;
  • Increase the number of start-ups created and supported annually by 200 percent, growing from 34 to 100;
  • Increase the number of provisional and utility patents filed annually by 20 percent, an increase from 78 annually to 94;
  • Increase the number of patents issued annually by 20 percent, an increase of four from the current 18 to 22; and
  • Increase the number of licenses/options executed annually by 25 percent, an increase of five from the current 21 to 26.

“Our new strategic vision recognizes and celebrates the university’s role in advancing Tennessee’s innovation economy,” said Deb Crawford, UTK Vice Chancellor for Research, Innovation and Economic Development. “By working with our many partners in the region and the state, mobilizing our entrepreneurial alumni, and empowering thousands of academic innovators – faculty, staff and students alike – we are doubling down on our commitment to create and support the industries of Tennessee’s and our Nation’s future.”

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